While you’re on a career break, it’s critical that you keep a list of things you’re doing that will help you make the case that you are a better employee because of your break.
Quick! Grab a pen and write down 5 things you’ve done while out of the paid workforce that a future employer might be interested in.
Need help? Here are some ideas to jumpstart your list:
-took an online course (LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, etc.)
-kept up a professional certification
-developed a new skill (what was it and how did you develop it?)
-took a course at a community college, a bootcamp, or anywhere
-managed a project at your kids school, your church, or a non-profit
-joined an industry association and attended their meetings or continuing education courses
-volunteered for a political campaign supporting a cause or a candidate that you believed in
-taught something (such as faith formation classes at your place of worship)
-started a group to get people with common interests connected
-joined a book club and participated in monthly discussions
-served on your homeowners association
-organized social events for an organization/school/church/neighborhood you are connected to
-took on gig or project work
-attended a conference that inspired you, taught you something, or kept you in touch with your profession or network
Why is this important?
For many reasons! For starters, as you update your resume you’ll draw on this list to fill the gap in your employment history. It’s also important because when you get to the interview stage of your job search, you will be asked what you did while you were out of the paid workforce. It will be up to you to tell a compelling story that convinces employers that you are a constant learner with a growth mindset.
This week I met with a recruiter at a great local company and we talked about hiring women (and men!) who are returning to work after a career break. She’s interviewed lots of career relaunchers: The ones who rose to the top are those that spoke about their time out of the workforce as a time of growth and convinced her that they were busy using skills that transfer well to the workplace.
My advice to you: Keep track of all the things you do while on a career break.
Start a google doc or a page in your journal to list every project and volunteer post you take on along with the skills you used and the outcome of the project. Don’t forget the outcome! If you’re ready to return to work and you haven’t been keeping track, no worries! Start your list now and spend the next few days adding to the list as you remember what’s been keeping you so busy all this time.
What if my list stinks? 🙂
OK, say you start your list and you decide it’s not impressive. Start doing list-building activities today by finding a course to enroll in, a group to join or a volunteer activity that will help you grow. Here’s a link to my blog about resources for job seekers that contains some ideas for you. I repeat, start today!
Being home with kids is a full-time job!
Yet so many of you manage to do this well in addition to volunteering, managing projects and improving yourselves on a daily basis. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I always marveled at how that title really missed the mark: I was never home! Between all the activities my children and I got involved in, I was constantly on-the-go. I even took a fencing class with one of my children, which let me to include “Beginning Fencer” under the Interests section at the bottom of my resume. I didn’t exactly learn practical job skills in the fencing class, but it was a great conversation starter! Also, it gave me the opportunity to talk about how my career break allowed me to explore some unique activities that expanded my mind and kept me physically fit.
So start that list and keep adding to it as you craft your story around how you used your career break to get better and how that will benefit your future employer.
There’s no shortage of advice on the internet for job-seekers when it comes to resumes. But women returning to work after a career gap have a special situation: You’ve been very busy while out of the paid workforce but don’t necessarily have a job title or professional accomplishments to show for it. Here are a few suggestions to help you as you put together your resume:
Use an objective or summary statement. An objective or summary at the top of the resume is especially important when your career does not follow a linear path. The objective is handy if you are applying for a job for which you may not be an obvious fit or you are a career-switcher, like many women returning to the workforce after a career break.
The objective briefly states what type of job you are looking for and the specific skills you have that relate to that job, but must be framed so that it clearly states what you can do for the employer. Here’s an example of a well-crafted objective statement: “Obtain a position at Back to Business where I can use my marketing and business development skills to help grow the organization.”
A summary statement summarizes your skills, areas of expertise and anything that might distinguish you from other applicants. An effective summary reads like this: “Experienced Project Manager with 10 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and knowledge of Global Networks. Proven ability to manage projects in emerging and established markets.”
Whether you choose to do an objective or a summary, remember that this part of your resume will need to be carefully tailored to each position you apply for and should include keywords that recruiters will search on when filling the job.
Use action words such as developed, designed, established, expanded, grew, launched and achieved to start your bullet points and capture the reader’s interest. Each of your resume bullets should convey an accomplishment, rather than simply listing your responsibilities.
Where possible, provide evidence that you possess these most sought-after skills, according to Quintessential Careers: communication skills, analytical/reasoning skills, computer/technical literacy, flexibility/ability to manage multiple priorities, interpersonal skills and leadership/management skills. Regardless of what functional area you are seeking work in, these skills are highly prized by employers. Visit LiveCareers.com for an excellent article on how to articulate these skills in your resume.
Know the right keywords for your target industry and use them effectively. You can determine what keywords are most commonly used in job postings by reading through multiple job postings on Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or another job search website. Pay close attention to the words used in any job listing you are responding to and be sure those exact words appear in your resume and cover letter whenever possible.
Quantify the statements in your resume bullets. Be specific when stating your accomplishments. You are aiming for bullets such as “Increased sales by x%”, “Reduced costs by $50,000”, “Brought in 10 new clients” or “Hired and trained over 500 people”. If enough time has passed that it’s difficult to recall specifics about your previous professional accomplishments, check out former co-workers profiles on LinkedIn and see if you can get clues from how they talk about their experience. While you’re there, invite them to connect, congratulate them on a recent career move or just drop them a line to keep the relationship fresh.
Here’s some expert advice from Catherine Tuttle, Owner of Forward Thinking Resumes:
“Returning to work after a career break doesn’t mean you have to have lots of white space on your resume. Keep in mind, just because you weren’t getting paid for what you were doing outside the home doesn’t mean it’s not relevant experience. Think about everything you’ve done since you left your most recent full time position and evaluate how it relates to your next career move. For example, were you volunteering for a political campaign – canvassing neighborhoods and speaking out about the issues? Were you part of an alumni network planning opportunities for others to engage on and off campus? Were you working with the PTA to raise awareness and funding for your child’s school? These experiences aren’t trivial and if communicated appropriately, represent a number of key skills that employers value including communication, initiative, relationship building, fundraising, and event planning just to name a few. As women we tend to downplay our success, so talk with friends and family or work with a professional to evaluate your experience, embrace your accomplishments, and articulate them clearly on paper.”
Getting started is the hardest part, so set aside some time to produce your first draft, then ask a trusted friend or adviser to review it for you. Having a resume you are proud of is a key step in being ready to face the job market as a prepared, confident job seeker.
Career switching is a common occurrence for women re-entering the workforce. You’ve probably heard the statistic that the average working person will have 7 different careers in their lifetime. Women often make a conscious decision to return to the workforce in a field other than the one where they previously worked. Here are 7 tips for successfully approaching a career change as you re-enter the workforce after a career break.
1) See this as an opportunity to re-invent yourself
Approaching this career change with the attitude that you are going to make a fresh start in a new field is going to carry you through the inevitable tough times of a job search. Commit to putting in the hard work required to get a new job and sticking with it through the ups and downs. Not sure which direction to take your career in? Click here to check out 10 free career assessment tools.
2) Determine which skills you’ll need in your new field
The trick to being a successful career switcher comes down to two words: transferrable skills. If you can show that the skills you used in one job will transfer well to another job, you are on your way to having an effective pitch for why someone should hire you. Comb job postings and LinkedIn profiles of people who hold the job you’d like to fill. Do informational interviews to determine which skills you’ll need. Make a chart with 2 columns – in the first column list the skills mentioned most in job postings for the position you’d like to have. In the second column list an example of a time when you used that skill.
3) Get the skills you don’t have
Switching careers takes work. Chances are you are going to have to do some re-skilling. Look into a professional certification or an industry conference, take a class at a community college or online or attend a meet-up to acquire the skills you don’t yet have. The nice thing is that you know exactly what those skills are, thanks to the work you did charting the required skills for your new field. You can also get those skills by volunteering in your intended field.
4) Craft a compelling story around your skills
Everybody loves a good story. Take a project you worked on in which you used the skills listed in your chart (see #2) and turn it into a story. Set up the situation, the task that needed to be completed, the action you took and most importantly, the result you achieved – all while focusing on how your skills enabled you to accomplish something big. Then tie it all together by relating the skills you used to your intended field. Don’t be afraid to have a story around something you accomplished while on a career break. This can show that you used your time out of the paid workforce productively and never stopped achieving, even when you weren’t getting paid.
5) Join a professional group geared toward your new industry
This is a great way to learn what the insiders know, meet people in your new field and get the lingo down. Chances are they have educational events you can attend. Finding these organizations in your local area is as easy as doing a Google search. These organizations often need volunteers and have job-search groups, so get involved. Join a LinkedIn professional group and first monitor, then participate in the conversations happening there.
6) Find an internship or offer to do project work at a target company
Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. This idea is catching on among women returning to work, according to iRelaunch’s Carol Fishman Cohen in this TED talk. Some industries may also be open to the idea of having you do project work. I had a friend who wanted to be a recruiter but balked at the idea of working for commission only for a trial period. This would have allowed her to learn the business without costing the company anything. She didn’t want to work for free, but 6 months later she was still looking for a job, hadn’t earned any money and still hadn’t learned the field of recruiting. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
7) Act like you’ve been there before
When you pull all of this together, it will help you act like you’ve been there before instead of seeming like an outsider trying to break into a new field. The funny thing about job searching is that recruiters want to hire people who have done the job before! If you don’t have direct experience in a field, you’ll have to prove that you possess the required skills and understand how to apply them to be successful in the role.
And here’s a bonus tip:
If you’re not getting the desired results from your job search, consider creating your own job. While I was looking for my return-to-the-workforce-full-time-job, I realized that there were a lot of other women out there facing the same challenges I was. I decided to do something to help all of us. I started Back to Business and in the process acquired skills that employers found attractive. I seized the opportunity to re-invent myself, developed a host of new skills that gave me a pretty convincing story to tell, met a ton of new people through the groups I joined and never missed a chance to learn something new. Ironically, just over a month before we launched our first conference I started a new full-time job that I love.
Keep at it. You’ll find a job that you love too and when you do, tell me about it on Facebook so I can congratulate you!